Renovating and Rethinking Sacred Space

An article in today’s New York Times entitled “Building Congregations around Art Galleries and Cafes as Spirituality Wanes” explores the latest innovations in church planting among Evangelicals. Several things to note.

1) that the number of new evangelical churches has gone up every year since 2006 (despite the fact that attendance at services is on the decline

2) a quotation from Warren Bird of the Leadership Network:

For new leaders coming out of seminary, “the cool thing is church planting,” Mr. Bird said. “The uncool thing is to go into the established church. Why that has taken over may speak to the entrepreneurialism and innovation that today’s generation represents.”

3. An interesting detail in the description of the National Community Church in Washington. It has 3000 members and yearly turnover of 40%.

Readers of this blog know that I am very interested in some of the new forms that are emerging in Christianity, in outreach to young adults and millennials, and in the role of sacred space in mission and ministry. One of the important things about sacred space is that it roots us in the tradition and connects us with the divine. There’s a sense of permanence there that runs counter to the ideas expressed in all three of the points I numbered above.

The articles below offer several different approaches to sacred space; the renovation of space to fit in with current liturgical principles, the creation of new sacred space, and appreciation of sacred space that has been around a very long time.

An Episcopal Church in Allentown, PA won an award from Faith & Form, the quarterly journal of the Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture (IFRAA), part of The American Institute of Architects, for his leadership of the award-winning liturgical renovation of Grace Church in Allentown, PA. IFRAA will bestow the 2012 Religious Art & Architecture award next June in Denver, Colorado.

Designed by its Rector Patrick Malloy who is now Dean of General Theological Seminary, it is intended to reflect the liturgical principles of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. In classes on worship and architecture, Dean Malloy:

invites students to explore the intersection of architecture, art, and liturgy, and how they meet to shape the experience of sacred space. “I wished to provide a context in which students could consider how space and the liturgies we celebrate in those spaces interact. How might liturgical spaces be designed to inspire a community’s ways of celebrating? Those who plan liturgy, too, must conceive of the liturgy spatially: how it will inhabit the space.”

There’s an article on the church’s renovation available from the Diocese of Bethlehem. And more about the awards, including information on all the winners, is available here.

On a very different note, Notre Dame (Paris) is celebrating its 850th anniversary this year

Design for the new Roman Catholic Cathedral in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Kenan Malik writes about St. Etheldreda Church, perhaps the oldest Catholic Church in England. As he says, “An ecclesiastical gem soaked in blood and history.”

3 thoughts on “Renovating and Rethinking Sacred Space

  1. Your thoughts remind me of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco – certainly a great example of the “permanent” type of sacred space. However, at least when I was there, they were actively pursuing the most creative mixes of art, architecture, and liturgy. For example, at Pentecost they had the artist Nancy Chinn drape hundreds of continuous yards of multicolor fabrics behind the altar, to the top of the cathedral, over the heads of the congregation, and up again into the back choir loft. Breathtaking. At another point, they had an all night meditation/prayer camp, with all the participants encircling the altar, including sleeping bags – and this is the mayor’s church!

    On the other side of creative approaches, there are some people video-streaming their “church” gatherings on-line. They start with some jazz piano, and follow with a “question the guest theologian” session. Interesting.

    Thanks for this post!

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